Tyler Childers (from the album Country Squire on Hickman Holler Records/TCA Records)
Tyler Childers is one of the growing number of musicians doing what he can to turn Modern Country on its heels so it can crawl back to the Pop music world it belongs. While his brand of Country is not new, Tyler Childers leads a pack of players here to remind casual music consumers that the world of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard is not forgotten. Country Squirewalks a fine line between Hank Williams classic country and Bill Monroe’s Kentucky bluegrass, a dance hall where high and lonesome songs party with crying in your beer music.
The title track opens with a quick dose of Telecaster chicken-pickin’ on a blue-collar nod to living off the land, singing in the bars at night, and building a home. “Bus Route” has mandolin picking and a bouncy dose of mouth harp and “Gemini” has that Texas party music feel mastered by Robert Earl Keen, complete with ‘road goes on forever and the party that never ends’ references.
“Peace of Mind” is a heartbreaker, a blue-collar reflection on family life, “All Your’n” reveals some R&B chops while “Matthew” should make people do a well-deserved internet search for Clarence White. Tyler Childers words show he has been around the block and took notes, all while delivering masterful melodies. The lyrics on Country Squire are a gut-punch, Tyler Childers’ songs loaded with solid instrumentation where every fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel has a well-deserved place.
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Delbert McClinton and Self-Made Men + Dana (from the album Tall, Dark, and Handsome available on Hot Shot Records)
Beginning with his last release backed by Self-Made Men, Prick of the Litter, Delbert swaggered into the center spotlight, fronting the band with smooth Blues and a crafted cool. Delbert McClinton and Self-Made Men stay true to the sound with the recent release, Tall, Dark, and Handsome, putting a bounce to the beat for “No Chicken on the Bone” and slinking in with a wish and a plan for “Let’s Get Down Like We Used To” as Delbert McClinton struts in with Self Made Men + Dana offering some shake, rattle, and roll rhythm to the road story cruising “If I Hock My Guitar”.
A triple threat gives Tall, Dark, and Handsome heft, blending the songwriting of Delbert McClinton with the energy of his live performance and backing both with the power of his touring band. Self-Made Men are a big band in the true sense; guitar, solid rhythm section, horns, keyboards, wrapping around the songs of Tall, Dark, and Handsome in dark noir moods (“Temporarily Insane”), Tex Mex tangos (“Gone to Mexico”), and street parade second line swank (“A Fool Like Me”). Delbert McClinton wears the skin of seductive crooner (“Ruby & Jules”) and tosses in his love cards on a Blue stomp (“Down in the Mouth”). The swinging saunter and Blues bluster of Tall, Dark, and Handsome is a perfect fit for the delivery and persona that Delbert McClinton has cultivated. Walking into the album on a high step, Delbert McClinton and Self-Made Men boogie to the band on stage for album opener “Mr. Smith” and put a warning label on “Lulu” as Tall, Dark, and Handsome turns the lights low for the love pouring from the Jazz-inflected mood of “Any Other Way”.
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Old Salt Union (from the album Where the Dogs Don’t Bite available on Compass Records)
The recent Old Salt Union release, Where the Dogs Don’t Bite, expands on the natural talents, and the diverse musical influences, of its players. Founded as a string band, and filled out by classically trained-musicians, Old Salt Union upped the beat-this ante claiming a bassman/vocalist with a fondness for the harmonies of The Four Freshmen who works as a hip-hop producer. Rock is the foundation for the string band song structure when Old Salt Union open the album with “God You Don’t Need” on a hammering rhythm and a true believer’s frenetic drive. A dusty shuffle kicks its feet as Where the Dongs Don’t Bite exits the album on the title track while the beat picks up the pace for the forward thrust of “Ebb & Flow”, points towards a way out of one-light town life in “Big Dream, Small Talk”, and stays true to Bluegrass traditions with “Tell Me So” with Osborne Brother Bobby (mandolin) joining in.
Produced by banjo master Alison Brown, Where the Dogs Don’t Bite soundshifts seamlessly, the album moving between styles within the Old Salt Union band brand, Alison as producer feels that ‘these post-modern Bluegrassers are true renegades. While they look like a bluegrass band, their musical sensibilities run much deeper and broader, borrowing as much from indie rock and jazz fusion as from Bill Monroe. And, even more exciting to me, they know no fear! They are wide open musical adventurers and we had a great time experimenting in the studio at the crossroads of these disparate influences’. Digging in and uniting the note pattern puts dots of melody on the map when Old Salt Union make their way through “Promised Land”, weave a somber mood into the soulful finger-pointing of “Hurt Somebody”, and fall into the storyline as the rhythms create a mighty undertow in the groove of “Heartbreak & Lonesome”. Where Dogs Don’t Bite soundtracks “Johann’s Breakdown” with Gypsy Jazz and relaxes in the smooth, forceful current, pulling back a soul close to the edge in “Holdin’ On”.
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The Rails (from the album Cancel the Sun available on Psychonaut Sound/Thirty Tigers)
Forming in 2013, The Rails brought more than words and music to the stage,
the pair offering musical lineage with Kami Thompson, daughter of Richard and Linda Thomspon alongside James Walbourne, guitarist for The Pogues and Pretenders. The music bed is made of a rock’n’roll guts and glory while the combined vocals of The Rails meet in an English harmony and tones in “Call Me When It All Goes Wrong” while the Folk Rock of “Waiting on Something” is carved with sharp edges as Cancel the Sun deals heavy-handed chord distortion on a percussive groove for “The Inheritance” and hears a heartbeat dying away in the fading memories in “Something Is Slipping My Mind”.
While American Roots defines a physical territory the sound of the music has no borders, The Rails the perfect example of taking sounds that grew up on American soil, adding an English texture to the playback. The Kentish Town (North London) couple freely fall into to the all-inclusive arms of Americana’s hybrid friendly format. Produced by Stephen Street (The Smiths, The Cranberries, Blur). Cancel the Sun revolves its rhythm wheel slowly for the title track and beats the drum steady in a reverential march for “The Dictator” as The Rails rally around a political platform that shows shuffling feet an exit from this mortal coil with “Save the Planet”.
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Spirit Family Reunion (from the album Ride Free available as a self-release)
The tracks of Ride Free board an audio train, the album taking the outstretched palm, and the advice, of Spirit Family Reunion as conductors, engineers, and ticket takers raising their collective hands to proclaim ‘if you’re one-way ticket has been torn ride free, ride free’ (“One-Way Ticket”). Ragged rhythm scratches out a dizzying sway through “Moon in the Mirror”, the tempo quieting for the hushed confessions of “Come Our Way” as a community a sing-a-long offers inspiration with “Gradual Power”. Ride Free saddles up a traditional cowboy tune (“Git Along, Little Doggies”) giving the track a makeover when Spirit Family Reunion cover Sons of the Pioneers hit “Whoopie Ti Yi Yo”.
A road trip with a plan put Spirit Family Reunion into a 1988 Chevy van loaded with Old Time instruments and fueled with an Indie DIY determination. A decade later and the band is continuing to explore the social nature of old-time music from the inside. A Country ramble hops “Midnight Train” as the morning sun brings the end to a month of Sundays and reads an open letter for “Would You Would or Would You Won’t” while Spirit Family Reunion spin wishes around the dance floor in “Ease My Mind”.
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Eilen Jewell (from the album Gypsy on Signature Sound Recordings)
Eilen Jewell is charming. Charming when she croons and when she cuts into a honky-tonk number. Eilen Jewell is charming when she’s dipping into something right out of a cocktail “hi-fi” jazz number andan ace when she deals self-reflection or doles out opinion, doing so with a sly grin and catchy melody. Her latest album release,Gypsy, has subtle twang and a dose of horns tucked into a bed with a groove that hints to New Orleans heritage. Gypsy is a record that is catchy and loaded with whip-smart lyrical hooks.“Crawl” starts the album with a secret-agent soundtrack vibe, “Miles to Go” has lonely lounge tones, and “You Cared Enough to Lie” does double-duty as a two-stepper and crying in your beer tune. The triple pack of tunes is a 1-2-3 punch of awesomeness to open the Gypsy.
“79 Cents (The Meow Song)” addresses the monetary inequality of female paychecks in America, singing to women in the workplace and ‘a raise she’ll never see’ while takes a page from the current presidents locker room level of dialogue, referring to Uncle Sam at ‘Mr. Status Quo, oh don’t you know, grabbing us right in the meow’. “Beat the Drum” is a slow rocker with ambient guitar work and a fiddle front and center while the Gypsy title track is a folk number and “These Blues” a bouncy two-stepper. “Witness” is a throwback R&B number ripe for a slow-dance, and the band takes a break, leaving Eilen Jewell and a lone acoustic guitar for the closer. “Fear” is a haunting closer, Eilen Jewell reflecting on life while ultimately delivering the advice of “don’t take fear to be your guide.”
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Sack of Lions(from the album White Lightning available on Sower Records)
The title track for White Lightning is a brew of many sonic colors, the tune following a fiddle into a tag team of guitar strings and the persistent pound of a drum beat, the musical bed a constant for the fickle love story. Rock’n’Roll propels “Run, Tell Your Mama”, the rhythm section nearly frothing as it hammers down a foundation while Sack of Lions wrangle a highway song into shape for “Street Jammer”, proudly wear Country on opening cut “Callin’ for Rain”, and hold lighters high for the anthemic strums of “Made of Stone”.
Sack of Lions are a Midwest band, tapping into the multiple musical styles that crisscross the U.S., blending and coaxing Country, Rock’n’Roll, Americana, and Roots music into a brand on White Lightning. Busting out of the gate at a full gallop, “Die” faces mortality on a runaway honky tonk beat while a molasses thick groove plays heartbreak at a slow speed for “See You Around” as Sack of Lions surround the goodbye in “Gone” with front porch Folk and conjure up dust devil’s with the Southwest winds blowing through “Boom”.
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Che Apalache (from the album Rearrange My Heart available on Free Dirt Records)
Handclaps and percussive beats are the foundation when Che Apalache offer a greeting as introduction with “Saludo Murguero” on Rearrange My Heart, their recent release. The album is a multi-lingual vocal delivery from the band while musically, Che Apalache circle the globe seamlessly gliding between pure Latin takes on the tunes (“Maria”), picking out rigid notes as the sound flies over Asian lands backed with a native language storyline (“春の便り(The Coming of Spring)”, airing dusty Southwest rhythms (“Rock of Ages”), and presenting traditional Bluegrass strains that give way to rock’n’roll riffing (“Over in Glory/New Spring”). The basic make-up of the four-piece is a string band, Bluegrass in instrumentation, specifically Old Time music the beacon that drew Joe Tropp (fiddle), Pau Barjau (banjo), Franco Martino (guitar) and Martin Bobrik (mandolin) together as a band in 2013.
Originally from North Carolina, Joe Troop relocated to Buenos Aires, the quartet based in the South American city with members from Argentina, Mexico, and the United States. Produced by banjo master Bela Fleck, the Rearrange My Heart title track is a supplication to the heavens, Che Apalache transmitting the message with four-part harmonies. Addressing topical headlines, Che Apalache harmonize over guitar strums for the stories in “The Dreamer” while the quartet use “Once Took Me In” to put Folk music on a world stage and ‘sing about a better world’, promising to stand together on both sides of “The Wall”, uniting to knock down the barrier so all citizens can abide in a ‘land where freedom rings’.
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Joseph Huber (from the album Moondog available as a self-release)
Good advice is the gift Joesph Huber offers on his recent release, Moondog. Mountain music barrels downhill at a rapid pace when Joseph Huber educates on how “Centerline” makes for a mythical border handing out badges of courage to all that cross over. Dark music spins, weaving sonic shadows on the Gothic Americana of ‘The Wild Swans at Coole” as a Countryfied rhythm gallops to catch “After You” while Southwest breezes carry touches of local sound for the tale of “Geronimo!” and Moondog strikes up the band for a Country hootenanny to spit out its story in the title track.
Joseph Huber speaks in the voice of a world-weary traveler in “A Northwood Waltz”, wears “Another Man’s Shoes” with street-corner preaching Folk, and quiets the playing to wonder “Where You Said You’d Be” with Soul-dosed vocals cradled by gentle Folk Rock guitar noodling. Moondog is album number four from Wisconsin native Joseph Huber, and what separates the recording in the standard issue singer/songwriter dance is the man with his name on the cover. Joseph Huber hands over his words on a shifting musical soundscape, making the link between songs a voice that steps between the styles with an unflinching urgency in his voice, vulnerable as it chews on wistful memories of yesterday and future fears in “Hardwired”, crying out as a lost-soul wanderer in “Rivers of Smoke”, and fully succumbing to the good time bubbles bursting open through the words and music of “Found Penny”.
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Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama (from the album Work to Do available on BMG)
The plan was for a three-song E.P. when Marc Cohn joined Blind Boys of Alabama at the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, capturing an intimate performance for the PBS series, The Kate. The magical merging talents of the songwriter and the gospel titans led Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama to gather cuts from the performance and studio tracks as Work to Do, their recent release. A reverential tone is defined by the piano as Marc Cohn is transported back into time, his memory sparking a tribute to The Band vocalist with “Listening to Levon” as Work to Do shows a strong backbone in the rhythm and harmonies of the title track while “Silver Thunderbird” make a wish to keep on cruising and marks studio time with red lights twinkling as the engineer sets the dial for the road to glory in “Talk Back Mic”.
Handclaps beat out a path for both the feet and the spirit as Blind Boys of Alabama open Work to Do with a shot of salvation for “Walking in Jerusalem” as the album puts the power of voices front and center in “Amazing Grace”, backing the harmony with sharp-angled guitar notes. Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama let the choir of voices be the rumble under “Ghost Train” and re-visit Cohn’s hit “Walking in Memphis” as spirt on steroids.
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